The 40th Anniversary of the Route du Rhum Solo Transatlantic Race

Author:
Publish date:
The perfect weather at the start quickly gave way to boat-breaking conditions

The perfect weather at the start quickly gave way to boat-breaking conditions

It was a memorable year for the quadrennial solo Route du Rhum race from Saint Malo, France, to Guadeloupe, with everything from storm conditions to plenty of disabled boats and nail-biting finishes at the end to mark the event’s 40th anniversary.

The 11th running of the 3,542-mile classic, which has been won over the years by a who’s who of the world’s solo-sailing elite, began with ideal conditions for the 123 solo sailors at the start. But it then quickly descended into controlled chaos as the notorious Bay of Biscay lashed the fleet with gale force winds and towering seas, prompting many skippers to take shelter along the nearby coast of Europe.

Ironically, among the earliest victims of the weather were those in the oversized Ultime multihull class, with Sébastien Josse, who had gotten off to a great start aboard Edmond de Rothschild, soon losing the bow of his starboard ama in 30 knots of wind and 15ft seas. After that, it was French Vendée Globe winner Armel Le Cléac’h, whose Banque Populaire IX capsized after its port ama snapped in similar conditions. Fortunately, both skippers were unhurt in their accidents.

U.S. Class40 sailor Mike Hennessy had an outstanding race

U.S. Class40 sailor Mike Hennessy had an outstanding race

Other victims of the rough conditions included Franco-German IMOCA sailor Isabelle Joschke and British skipper Sam Goodchild aboard the Class 40 Narcos Mexico, both of whom lost their rigs. “I had just picked up a few places,” Goodchild said afterward. “I went down below and started to tidy up, and then there was a big bang. I came up on deck, and the whole rig was in the water, and we were drifting over the top of it.”

One sailor who made it through the ordeal in one piece was 52-year-old American skipper Michael Hennessy aboard the Class40 Dragon.

“Last night was a classic,” he reported the morning after. “Winds built to sustained 35 knots and gusts to 40. Sea height was 12ft. Dragon took flying lessons, and while her launch is pretty good, her landing needs some work.”

IDEC Sport drifts toward the finish with MACIF in the background

IDEC Sport drifts toward the finish with MACIF in the background

After that, it was fairly smooth sailing across the open Atlantic, until things started to get exciting again toward the finish—especially for 62-year-old French sailing legends Francis Joyon aboard the Ultime IDEC Sport and 35-year-old François Gabart aboard the Ultime MACIF, who’d been dueling ever since escaping the storm. In the end, Joyon drifted across the line in a near calm a mere seven minutes, eight seconds ahead of Gabart, in the process setting a new course record of seven days, 14 hours and 21 minutes.

“It was only one-and-a-half minutes before the finish that I realized I could win,” Joyon said. “Before the last gybe François was faster than me with his Code Zero and practically all the way to the finish line I had a vision of him steaming in and passing me again because he was going 2 or 3 knots quicker.”

Thomson nurses Hugo Boss toward the finish after running aground

Thomson nurses Hugo Boss toward the finish after running aground

Alas, another sailor who experienced some drama of the very worst kind toward the end was British sailor Alex Thomson who’d held a commanding lead throughout only to run his IMOCA monohull Hugo Boss aground in the race’s final stages. Because he had to use his engine to get his boat off the rocks, Thomson was given a 24-hour time penalty, which in turn dropped him into third place, giving the class win to Paul Meilhat aboard SMA.

In all only 76 skippers made it to the finish, among them Hennessy (for whom this was the first solo transatlantic) who finished 12th among the 53 Class40s (18 of which abandoned the race) with Frenchman Yoann Richomme aboard Veedol-AIC taking first. For complete results, visit routedurhum.com/en

February 2019

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more